Raymond Blake

wine writer

Raymond Blake

wine writer

Raymond Blake

wine writer

Raymond Blake

wine writer

Turner by Turns

Early January traditionally ushers in a wave of resolutions that would do a monastery proud. A week or so later, however, most of them have bitten the dust, abandoned as far too strict and ambitious. They needn’t all be like that, though. Here’s a suggestion for a ‘resolution’ that demands nothing more than a bit of get up and go, some forward planning and a liking for a pleasant weekend away with spouse or partner.

The dark days of January carry with them some unexpected bright spots, one such being the exhibition of the watercolours of JMW Turner at the National Gallery, Dublin. They were bequeathed to the gallery by Henry Vaughan (1809-1899) a noted Victorian art collector. One of the stipulations in his bequest was that the watercolours, because of their delicate nature, should only be exhibited in the month of January when the sunlight is at its weakest. Thus these gems are only on view to the public for one month in every 12; for the other 11 they slumber peacefully in a specially constructed cabinet, safe from the destructive attentions of all ultra-violet rays. In all, 31 watercolours from Vaughan’s collection reside in our own gallery, while another 38 are to be found in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Your resolution, should you decided to accept it, is to plan a weekend that takes in a viewing of each collection, along with the requisite shopping and sightseeing without which such a break would not be complete. You will start in the National Gallery, Dublin shortly after it opens at 9.30am on a Friday morning. The watercolours are brilliantly displayed in a dark room whose stygian gloom enhances and highlights Turner’s still-pristine colours. Linger for an hour or more and be sure not to miss one of my favourites, A Ship against the Mew-stone, Plymouth. Ominously dark clouds hang over the puny ship as she battles a frenzied sea to avoid shipwreck on the rocks. You can almost feel the spray on your face. Contrast this with the serenity of Fishing Boats on Folkestone Beach, Kent, as the day’s catch is sorted on the beach. Before you leave, and in anticipation of what is to come, pay careful attention to Edinburgh from Salisbury Crags, a pencil and watercolour from 1801.

Then it is time to head for Dublin airport to catch the 13.10 flight to Edinburgh. You have had enough culture for one day; it is time to hit the shops. Check out Harvey Nichols – it is a lot more spacious than the recently opened Dublin branch and is within easy reach of the main thoroughfare, Prince’s Street. A little further on by foot you come to Edinburgh’s legendary temple of gastronomy, Valvona & Crolla. Just about every Italian delicacy is available here in this island of Italy in the land of haggis. If it all gets too much for you take a seat in the bistro at the back for coffee or afternoon tea. Then back to your hotel for a rest before dinner.

There is no need to agonise over where to dine on your first night; it has to be The Witchery, Edinburgh’s most celebrated restaurant. It’s a gothic concoction of a place and if you want to make a real splash you can stay in one of the outrageously decorated suites, but be prepared for your credit card to wilt under the strain. Don’t be too late to bed, however, for your art appreciation course resumes in the morning.

The Turner collection In the National Gallery of Scotland is slightly bigger and, if anything, a bit more impressive than our own, though the watercolours are not as sensitively displayed. Many of them show scenes from around Britain – Dover, Melrose, Skye, Caernarvon – as well as two views of Durham. Anyone who has been to this latter city will appreciate Turner’s skill in capturing the towering splendour of the cathedral, one of Britain’s finest. Another group shows scenes from continental Europe including half a dozen from Venice; the most dramatic of which is The Piazzetta, lit by a jagged bolt of lightning across the sky.

After the hush of the gallery a brisk walk uphill will take you to the castle. Even those for whom castles hold little appeal will be captivated by the splendid vista of Edinburgh visible from the ramparts. An attraction of an entirely different kind can be found in nearby Leith where the decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia is now permanently moored. If you want to continue sightseeing over dinner then The Tower restaurant is the place to go as it sits atop the Museum of Scotland, with Edinburgh by night as the panoramic background. Those for whom Michelin stars are the only guide will want to go to Restaurant Martin Wishart, though book well in advance for it is very popular.

You can lie in on the Sunday morning and after a late breakfast catch the 14.40 flight home to Dublin. Your resolution is complete. Didn’t hurt, did it?

National Gallery of Scotland: The Mound. Tel: +44 (0)131 624 6200.
email: nginfo@nationalgalleries.org Turner and lots more besides.

Edinburgh Castle. Tel: +44 (0)131 225 9846. email: hs.explorer@scotland.gsi.gov.uk
If you are only going to see one major site, make sure it is this.

Royal Yacht Britannia: Ocean Terminal, Leith. Tel: +44 (0)131 555 5566.
email: enquiries@tryb.co.uk

Valvona & Crolla: 19 Elm Row. Tel: +44 (0)131 556 6066. www.valvonacrolla.com

The Witchery: Castlehill, Royal Mile. Tel: +44 (0)131 225 5613.
email: reservations@thewitchery.com (Also some luxurious accommodation.)

The Tower: Museum of Scotland, Level 5, Chambers Street. Tel: +44 (0)131 225 3003.
email: reservations@tower-restaurant.com

Restaurant Martin Wishart: 54 The Shore. Tel: +44 (0)131 553 3557.
Valvona & Crolla (see above.)

The Witchery (see above.)

Point Hotel: 34 Bread Street. Tel: +44 (0)131 221 5555.

Frederick House Hotel: 42 Frederick Street. Tel: +44 (0)131 226 1999.

Article originally published in Cara Magazine, January 2006
blog comments powered by Disqus

blog comments powered by Disqus